Till Death Do Us Part ….

Anyone who knows me will agree that I am having an affair with my football club. For me, it’s a bit like those tee shirts that were produced a few years back, which stated ‘Chelsea is life, the rest is mere detail.’ Given the circumstances, one might imagine I was a fairly unlikely candidate for becoming a fanatical Chelsea supporter. Firstly, not one family member had ever shown an interest in football. Secondly, I was a girl. (Actually, I still am, albeit an older girl these days.) Thirdly, I was raised in rural Norfolk. I don’t think I need to expand on that one.

Then one day in April 1970 when I was nine years old, some girls in my school playground had cottoned on to the fact that if you wanted to impress the boys, you had to be ‘supporting’ one or other of the football teams in the forthcoming FA Cup Final. To join the girls’ skipping game, thus being with the ‘in crowd’ and impressing the boys, you were supposed to say you supported Leeds. They were were apparently the more popular, and most of the boys were going with them. So I lied. Yea, ok I’m sorry, but I wanted to impress Peter Butterworth, and Barry Broad. The guilt of that lie will stay with me for life. However, even at that stage, I knew deep down I was really meant to be Chelsea. And by the date of the Cup Final replay, I had ‘come out’ and declared my support of the Blues, by which time of course, the other girls had lost interest altogether, and my torrid and passionate affair was only just beginning.

I announced in a serious manner to my parents and older brother that I had become a Chelsea supporter. They laughed. Well it was 1970, and in their world, girls did not become football fans. It wasn’t as if I was even sporty, given my dyspraxic tendencies, meaning I was always last to get picked for any team games, and I dreaded PE. (Just a shame for England that David James didn’t realise he was dyspraxic.) My parents thought Chelsea was a phase I would grow out of, but once I had insisted on swapping my weekly Twinkle comic for Shoot, they realised their mistake. Amongst the girls at school I began to be considered something of an oddity. While my peers were dreaming of Donny Osmond, I thought I was going to marry Peter Osgood. I took great delight in hating Leeds, and annoying all the boys who ‘supported them’ (after all Leeds were the Man United of the day, and I had gone off Peter Butterworth and Barry Broad!) A hatred of Leeds mostly involved making up rude songs about Billy Bremner and Gary Sprake, or defacing their posters with felt tip pens in my copy of Shoot and passing them round the class.

I tried to persuade other girls to join my ‘Stamford Bridge Gang’ and the prerequisite for membership was to answer questions about Chelsea around the packed lunch table. Members also had to swear an oath of allegiance and we held regular meetings in a disused hen house in the field behind my home. I don’t think for a minute that these girls were remotely interested in Chelsea’s latest results, let alone what Peter Bonetti’s favourite cereal was, or where Charlie Cooke went for his holidays. I think they only went along with the whole thing because my mother had a reputation for making great flap jacks.

From then onwards, Saturdays became a bit of a battle ground. My parents had this ritual whereby my father went for a lunch time drink with his friends, was late home, and tried to appease my stony faced mother by suggesting a shopping trip to King’s Lynn. So I had to go too. Naturally I wanted to stay at home with the transistor radio and the television. Saturday afternoon sport on TV consisted of wrestling followed by the football results on the teleprinter. Women could be seen tapping away at their typewriters in the background, wearing what looked like nylon overalls, and that was as sophisticated as it got back then.

Instead, I had to trail around the shops, complaining as my mother picked out yet more hideous crimplene dresses for me, and all the time I would be fretting about Ossie’s groin strain. When the time got to twenty minutes to five – remember when matches were actually finished by then – I would insist on rushing up King’s Lynn high street to the nearest TV shop, to mingle with a crowd of like minded men and find out how we had done. Believe me, I probably could have held the world record for being chucked out of TV shops. Sometimes there was such a crowd gathered that the shop manager came along and switched all the TV sets off in a fit of pique. Those occasions were agony, because I had to hold my crackly transistor radio up to the car window on the way home in order to get the results. More often than not I would lose the reception altogether just as Chelsea’s score was coming through. My father was duly cursed for daring to drive past a building at that very moment.

Eventually, I wore my father’s resistance down and he had to take me to see Chelsea play. He had ‘decided’ at some point hence, that he was a Leeds fan. Funny, that. But I digress. We used to watch Chelsea play at Norwich each season, although for reasons which were best known to him, he made us stand with the home fans. Now I guess I must have looked rather out of place. A young child, wearing a blue and white hand knitted scarf and with a giant Chelsea rosette the size of a dinner plate pinned on to her anorak. You think that was just for match days? Get real, I wore that rosette on my anorak day in, day out. And I was not the sort of child who was going to keep quiet, or feel intimidated by a load of yellow and green canaries. Oh no, I shouted. I gave the home fans some decent stick, especially when they refused on one occasion to return the ball to Peter Bonetti. I hope he’s proud of me! My dad was a bit embarrassed though.

By the time I was finally taken to see Chelsea at the Bridge, the new East Stand was in place, and sadly, I never got to experience the delights of the original Shed. That’s one of my biggest regrets. My dad said it was ‘too rough’ for me. Actually I think he thought it was too rough for him. Because despite my small stature, I could, and still can, look after myself. I may have been watching from the East Stand and not the Shed, but I made my presence felt. Let’s just say that the linesmen, away supporters and opposing substitutes knew I was there! They still do, now that I sit in the Matthew Harding Lower by the corner flag!

So there you have it. Everyone has their own story to tell about how they got hooked on Chelsea. I always hoped that any children I might produce would share my passion, but I’m afraid to say my daughter supports Tottenham. You may be wondering how on earth this happened. I’d like to say that whilst I was spark out after her birth, she was kidnapped by aliens from the Seven Sisters. Unfortunately I have to admit that it’s because her father – my ex – is a Tottenham fan. He isn’t buried under the patio but in recent seasons it has been so much more fun to see him suffer the living hell of being beaten time and time again by Chelsea than to wish him any harm.

Then in 1985 my son Chris came along, and fortunately chose the sensible path. He’s 19 now, and likes to say that he became a Blue whilst still in the womb. He is what I would describe as a natural. I didn’t even have to tell him stuff about the history, the passion and past results. He just seemed to soak up information like a sponge. Maybe his theory is right, and it really is genetic. Anyway I can rest in the knowledge that once I am gone from this earth, the love of Chelsea lives on in Chris. Now there may come a point when I am old and eat cat food, and one of my biggest fears is that I go ‘ga ga’ and think I’m a Gooner. I made Chris promise that he would campaign for legalising Euthanasia if this happens. Growing old and eating cat food is one thing, but believing myself to be a Gooner would be beyond redemption!

As for personal relationships, well over the years I made a bit of a mess of them, I’m afraid. You see, Peter Osgood and Peter Bonetti declined my proposals of marriage – probably best, as I was only ten at the time of writing the letters – and the likes of Garry Stanley never noticed me. Too late now, I’m old enough to be the mother of most of the first team! Instead I’ve found myself involved either with men who supported another club (like the Tottenham fan whom I divorced on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour) or men who are not the least bit interested in football at all. My second husband falls into the latter category. I am actually living with someone who thinks Zola was a French philosopher. He has never understood about the celery, still believing it to be a strange choice of half time snack, and when I once happened to mention the FA Vase, I had to click on google to get him to believe that I wasn’t winding him up!

© Carol Ann Wood, 2004


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